From 2005 to '07, West York had zen for breaking basketball barriers
Bill Ackerman keeps a broken hunk of wood in the West York coaches' office.
The decade-old memento doesn't have much use now, but it conjures up memories for the 17-year boys' basketball coach. He's considering bring back the piece next season. Maybe it again can serve as a metaphor while chasing history.
The last time came in 2007, when West York won its only District 3 boys' basketball championship and capped a historic three-year stretch.
"It was a magical time," Ackerman said. "The kids are tough as nails. We've been trying to emulate it ever since."
The teams haven't been too different in Ackerman's 17 years at West York.
They are gritty, rarely playing anything other than man-to-man pressure defense. They're deep, usually utilizing a nine-man rotation early in games. They also haven't had a player taller than 6-foot-5.
"I'm still waiting," Ackerman said.
Those qualities melded together by 2005 with a mix of seniors and sophomores, who forged an upset of rival William Penn for the YAIAA championship. Both were elusive; the first league title in 23 years and Ackerman's initial victory against the Bearcats in seven seasons.
Only a program-first district championship escaped the Bulldogs' grasp until two years later.
Rob Estep and Tim Llewellyn, teammates since fourth grade, were there for both runs.
"With the talent we had, we had eight or nine who played and a few who would have started at other schools," said Estep, a 6-2 wing who developed a propensity to withstand pressure by the '05 league final.
"We went from following leaders to getting into leadership roles," said Llewellyn, the three-year starter who Ackerman holds as the standard for how point guards should play.
In two games against William Penn as sophomores, they showed Ackerman their potential. Llewellyn did it with his defense, particularly drawing a pivotal charge to force overtime in the regular season. William Penn won that meeting, but not the rematch when Estep drilled a half-dozen free throws down the stretch for the YAIAA championship.
"I thought these kids are unbelievable," Ackerman said. "Their basketball IQ is off the charts."
They learned of Ackerman's knack of motivational tactics, which truly showed by 2007.
The coach always pulled a hunk of wood from his bag during road games.
"He carried around half of it," Estep said. "You could clearly tell it was broken."
If it wasn't the wood, Ackerman turned off the lights before going over a scouting report. Estep characterized the sessions as "half motivational, half meditation" as Ackerman told the team to close its eyes and visualize winning certain aspects of a game.
He might have picked up the idea after walking in on a rival coach doing the same but was convinced of its effect. Ackerman wanted his team to visualize aspects of the game it could exploit against an opponent, such as Pennsylvania's No. 1 ranked team before a showcase event in Alvernia.
Communications Tech out of Philadelphia laughed as West York, then ranked fourth with no player above 6-4, ran onto the court. Ackerman was convinced they were taken lightly. In turn, his Bulldogs took the game and No. 1 ranking for the rest of the season.
Along the way, West York reclaimed the YAIAA title and finally won that desired district crown. In 2005, West York made it to the district title game but lost to Steel-High, the eventual 2005 state champion with two 2,000-point scorers. In 2007, it was Susquehanna Township that stood in West York's way. The Bulldogs won, 71-61.
"There was a lot of talk about how the York league couldn't hang with the Mid-Penn and Lancaster," Estep said. "That was a little vindication."
Following the 2007 season, Ackerman put away the broken piece of wood. He filed away the folder filled with motivational ideas from a summer class at Millersville University taught by former professor and motivational speaker Stanley Kabacinski.
Ackerman wonders, months in advance of the 2015-16 season with a similar team, if he should dust off the relics. They came from a energetic, enthusiastic man who made a believer of Ackerman more than a decade ago.
"He was like a dynamo," Ackerman said of Kabacinski.
"He had us breaking boards during class. I saw a girl do three boards."
The purpose? Visualization.
Ackerman broke one barrier. His teams soon followed.
Contact Matt Goul at 771-2045.